ClassDojo is a popular gamified communication app for teachers – with a focus on positive behavior reinfocement. It has both supporters and detractors in the educational community. Is ClassDojo a fantastic teacher tool, or is it an Orwellian control mechanism? Read this month’s Gamification Review and decide for yourself!
Disclaimer: I used ClassDojo as a classroom teacher between 2012 and 2014. I would describe my experience with the program as “moderately positive”. Having made that statement, I urge you to read the rest of this article, as my opinion has changed due to developments over the past two years. I am not affiliated with ClassDojo, nor is any member of my family. I have no vested interest whatsoever in ClassDojo and have at no time received compensation in any form from ClassDojo for any statement, review, service or other contribution.
ClassDojo was launched in 2011 as a fairly simple classroom management app. Its most striking characteristic was its visual appeal; the cute and colorful “baby monster” avatars were one thing the designers got really right from the very beginning.
In its first iteration, ClassDojo had two functions: reinforcing positive behavior in the classroom, and facilitating communication between teachers and parents related to positive behavior in the classroom. These are still the main functions, although at the time of this publication the app has been expanded with at least one additional major function and a number of other features as well.
The behavioral component allows teachers to reward students with positive feedback in real time by assigning points to the students’ avatars. Students can choose their avatars from a gallery of appealing cartoon figures. The avatars accumulate points for positive – or negative – behaviors, which teachers can customize and use (or not) as they please.
Teachers can share reports, private messages, and student work samples with parents at any time, and parents receive a weekly report automatically.
A new addition to ClassDojo is Student Stories, an online portfolio created by the individual student to showcase classwork in photo and video format. Student Stories are viewable by the student’s parents and teacher.
A New York Times article by Natasha Singer, published in November 2014, created a stir in the world of education. It portrayed ClassDojo in a negative light, citing privacy concerns and criticizing the use of extrinsic motivation. The reaction from teachers and parents alike was immediate and vociferous, with many voices on either side. Karen Langdon’s blog Teaching Ace likened ClassDojo to zapping children with a Taser – arguably the exaggeration of the year – but most of the responses from teachers in the comments thread are very positive. Alice Keeler, author of theTeacher Tech blog, endorses ClassDojo enthusiastically in several of her posts. ClassDojo was quick to post a response to Singer’s article on their website; if you read the NY Times article, you should in fairness read the response.
My Two Cents’ Worth
In the disclaimer, I said that my previous experience with ClassDojo had been moderately positive, and that my opinion had changed since then. I now think more highly of ClassDojo than before, both as a product and as a company. Critique in the public forum is important; it serves to hold people and companies accountable. Concerned citizens have every right (and perhaps the duty) to voice their concerns, especially when the issue is the well-being of our children. Such critique should, however, be based on experience or at least careful investigation, not on unverified preconceptions or assumptions of bad faith. The critics of ClassDojo fall into the latter categories. If you follow the comment threads, they all end up admitting – sooner or later – that ClassDojo has several very good uses and their only real concern is that it has the potential to be misused. This is not a legitimate critique. Everything, including the critics’ own blogs, the Internet and literacy itself, has the potential for misuse. Technology empowers – it is the users’ responsibility to translate that power into positive effect. ClassDojo goes above and beyond the norm in providing resources for proper, positive use of their product. The critics are either ignoring this, or else they did not bother to actually visit the ClassDojo site. If they are looking for a corporate target, why not focus on something that actually does serious harm to children every day: industrial waste, targeted marketing of junk food, defunding of public education and other services, inadequate access to healthcare?
ClassDojo is not doing anything new. Teachers have been using strategies and techniques for behavior management in the classroom since the beginning of time. ClassDojo just does the job in a user-friendly, fun, collaborative way. That’s a good thing. But by all means, do the research. I am confident you will come to the same conclusion as I have.